Every year, in the days preceding Thanksgiving break, the Friends Academy junior class embarks on a highly anticipated trip to the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. The purpose of the trip is partly to supplement students’ learning in their U.S. History and American Literature courses, and partly to enhance community bonding through the class retreat. Junior class administrators officially announced the trip’s dates to the grade on the very first day of the 2015-2016 school year, describing it as one of the highlights of junior year, a statement many students agreed with. Students have expressed varying levels of excitement towards the trip, but a majority of them lean towards a high level of enthusiasm, with some students even considering the trip to be the most important experience of their entire Friends Academy career.
The juniors were supposed to depart early in the morning on Sunday, November 22nd and return to school around 3:00 pm on Tuesday, November 24th. But in the days leading up to the trip, Head of School Bill Morris received calls from several parents who were concerned about their children being in D.C. just ten days after the events surrounding ISIS and the Paris attacks. The administration organized a faculty meeting in order to decide whether or not to proceed with the trip. Ultimately, the decision was made to cancel and tentatively postpone the trip to a later date. In an email sent out to junior class members and parents, Mr. Morris wrote:
“We recognize that this trip has both educational and community building value for each class, so we want to provide the opportunity for the Class of 2017 to have this experience if the timing is such that the participants can focus on the trip and not their concerns. Our decision is based on the one reality we know for sure – that students, parents, and faculty are following the events abroad and the recent stated ISIS threats and are expressing fears and concerns about travelling to Washington at this time. Knowing the widespread level of unease in our community, we feel that, in these circumstances, we could not reach the educational and community building goals of the trip. We need to acknowledge everyone’s current state of mind, allow for settling of emotions and concerns, and hopefully proceed with the trip in 3 ½ months.”
The cancellation has provoked various reactions from members of the junior class. Daniel McCooey, one student who had been extremely excited about the trip, said: “I think ISIS’ objective is to get us to be scared of them, and that’s kind of what we are doing, which is ridiculous. I understand [the concerns] and I’m not mad at the school, but I’m frustrated that the school had to cancel it because of a few people’s parents. The problem is that the whole grade doesn’t get to experience the trip. But at the same time it does make sense that [if we go], then the entirety of the junior grade will not be able to share in this great experience.”
Student Joseph Como had also been looking forward to the experience, but was doubtful that the tentative plans to reschedule would come to fruition. “It’s a shame that a few overprotective parents are ruining my trip. I think this cancellation is proof that there won’t be a trip at all because a communal sense of safety won’t grow in the next couple months. Things will stay the same,” said Como.
Two students, Daniella Auerbach and Jacob Rush, both conveyed their skepticism as to the possibility of an ISIS attack while students were in D.C. In Auerbach’s opinion, “The safest time to go is actually right now. If people are worried about being attacked in D.C., they have nothing to worry about because the security is so high and the whole city is on lockdown.” Similarly, Rush stated, “D.C. is always receiving terrorist threats… But the only time that D.C. has actually been bombed was in 9/11…”
“I don’t think there was a serious threat but I understand why people were concerned,” said Brooke Juhel, another junior class member.
Student Kaitlyn Hardy recounted her initial reaction when she found out the trip had been cancelled. “I was extremely upset that it had been cancelled because I really wanted to go… But the administration’s concerns were valid because they wanted to be safe with the decisions they made.”
English teacher Dr. Katy Howard agrees with the administration’s decision to postpone the trip until a later date despite overall student disappointment with the outcome. “The feeling of being responsible for children is one that is hard to understand unless you are in that position yourself,” Howard told students in one of her English classes. Ultimately, the administration had to feel safe about their actions.